Editorial – Fair beach access for all

Recently, South Dundas council discussed the issue of access fees to the Morrisburg and Iroquois beaches, putting it back under the microscope. Municipal staff were directed to look into charging non-residents for the privilege to use South Dundas’ beaches. This is an ongoing debate that needs to be settled once and for all.

Last year, people flocked to South Dundas’ beaches because many other beaches – including those owned by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission – were closed due to the pandemic. Traffic to South Dundas’ beaches has been increasing for years, even before the pandemic. The  secret got out about what a jewel the waterfront here is, and now people want to visit.  If tourism is a part of a municipal economic development plan, then consider this a win.

The farce to the type of system proposed by Councillors Wells, Lewis, and Mellan is that having a free pass for locals, and outsiders pay is counterintuitive to encouraging tourism. Councillors and residents cannot, and should not, get upset when people visit after they are invited to do so. South Dundas cannot have its cake and eat it too.

To address this problem, it should be better defined. Is the problem with South Dundas’ beaches being used, or that residents cannot find a parking space when they go? Having seen the growth in beach use, and heard from many readers over the years, finding a space is the real issue. To address that, there is a better way to deal with it than the usual “us-versus-them” approach – parking fees.

Other municipalities in the region that draw tourists have universal parking fees. Everyone in Kingston and Brockville pay for the privilege to park their vehicles by the water. That is the same in Gatineau Park where everyone pays to use the parking areas. Access for people is free. South Dundas has it backwards.

Charging a set fee at South Dundas’ beach and waterfront parking areas could have many benefits. The parking revenue can be spent on future improvements and continued upkeep of the amenities. Paid parking could help control the number of people using parking spots and ensure a good flow of traffic with time expiration. This could also properly monetize those who come visit to use the waterfront beaches and parks, and those who leave their vehicles behind to go elsewhere by boat. Paid parking treats all users, local and tourist, equitably.

If local residents in the villages want to take their vehicle to the beach, they would pay for that privilege. If residents don’t like the idea of paying for parking, maybe freely welcoming visitors to share and enjoy our assets with us is the better alternative.

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